I always find it hilarious how much Wesley Crusher is a divider among Trekkies. To some, Wesley’s an annoying kid who constantly screws things up, only to give a smile, sigh, and cue that 80s “Wah-Wah-WAHHHHH” trombone in the background.
To others, Wesley is a misunderstood character, driven hard by the expectations of his dead father and his Captain-turned-father-figure in Picard.
NO, PICARD IS NOT WESLEY’S ILLEGITIMATE FATHER. STOP IT.
Alright, let’s assume that Gene Roddenberry didn’t write Picard and Wesley with the assumption that they were related. In that case, I find Wesley to be a misstep by early Trek writers to tackle the feelings of children losing their parents on the front line of the Federation. Now, we’re dealing with some serious problems here. In the original series, emotions of sadness seemed almost secondary. Any feelings of death would have to disappear by the next episode. That’s just how television worked at the time. So the new humans of the Federation dealt with sadness and loss by bottling it up inside.
Wesley is a little different. While it isn’t discussed much, Wesley’s father, Jack, was killed while under Picard’s command onboard the U.S.S. Stargazer. In several episodes, Wesley undergoes minor tugs at the loss of his father. However, he seems to be extremely well-rounded for most of the series.
However, there is a review of the TNG episode “The Bonding,” done by SFDebris, that sums up my main problem with how Wesley was written. SFDebris references “the Roddenberry box;” a metaphorical box that TNG writers had to work in, where certain criteria set forth by Roddenberry made writing certain stories almost impossible. In Michael Piller’s Fade In, he discusses how frustrating the box was for writers. This quote is also discussed by SFDebris in the video linked to above:
My first time in Roddenberry’s Box was during the very first episode I worked on as head writer. We were already in production of season three, four shows were finished, twenty-two still to do. There were no scripts and no stories to shoot the following week. Desperate, I bought a spec script that had been sent in from an amateur writer named Ron Moore who was about to enlist in the U.S. Navy. It was a rough teleplay called “The Bonding” and would require a lot of reworking but I liked the idea. A female Starfleet officer is killed in an accident and her child, overcome with grief, bonds with a holographic recreation of his mother rather than accept her death.
I sent a short description of the story to Rick and Gene. Minutes later, I was called to an urgent meeting in Gene’s office. “This doesn’t work” he said. “In the Twenty-Fourth Century, no one grieves. Death is accepted as part of life.”
As I shared the dilemma with the other staff writers, they took a bit of pleasure from my loss of virginity, all of them having already been badly bruised by rejections from Gene. Roddenberry was adamant that Twenty-Fourth Century man would evolve past the petty emotional turmoil that gets in the way of our happiness today. Well, as any writer will tell you, ‘emotional turmoil’, petty and otherwise, is at the core of any good drama. It creates conflict between characters. But Gene didn’t want conflict between our characters. “All the problems of mankind have been solved,” he said. “Earth is a paradise.”
Now, go write drama.
His demands seemed impossible at first glance. Even self-destructive.
The other thing SFDebris references is “adults writing for children.” I think this is the main problem with Wesley’s character. Statistics show that sons and daughters bury their parents during their adult life. Therefore, while it’s possible to have a writer on staff that knows the feelings that come with losing a mother or father during their childhood, it would be just easier to spin a wheel and pick the writer of the week to create Wesley’s feelings about life and death. Or, better yet, ignore them whenever possible.
This is why Wesley is so handcuffed. He’s not written to feel the wide range of emotions that comes with being a 15-year-old genius on the Starfleet’s flagship, following in his dead father’s footsteps, complete with serving the guy who commanded his father to death.
Even though it was in bits and pieces, Picard had to deal with the pain of being assimilated into the Borg Collective in “Family.” Likewise, Benjamin Sisko deals with the pain of losing his wife in the Battle of Wolf 359, complete with a face-to-face encounter with Picard.
But Wesley isn’t allowed to be sad once? Come on. That’s just garbage.